Routers: All-in-one

Ian Yates
1 November, 2007
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Unless you’ve spent the last year blogging in a vacuum you already know all about Voice over IP (VoIP) so you won’t be needing another lecture from AMW Lab on the topic. If you have really been blogging in a vacuum for the past year, grab the 09.2006 issue and come back here when you’ve completed your homework. For the rest of us who are happily paying peanuts for phone calls, we reviewed some integrated all-in-one internet routers that can take your VoIP experience to the next level. These little boxes also reduce the clutter surrounding the phone outlet down to a single box with a single plugpack transformer. Depending on when you began your internet broadband journey you could have as many as four boxes waiting to be consolidated.

AMW Lab took a look at four totally integrated routers from Netgear, D-Link, Netcomm and Belkin and one not-quite-totally integrated offering from Linksys. The all-in-ones offer ADSL directly in the device, thereby doing away with the little ADSL modem that came from your ISP. The also provide WiFi so you can use the notebook anywhere in the house, and several extra Ethernet ports to plug in the storage box and the media streaming gadget. And they have VoIP sockets, so you can also ditch the little VoIP box you got from your VoIP provider.

Well, don’t actually throw the VoIP adaptor away, because they have your number and password printed underneath and you’ll need that information. And although these integrated routers have ADSL included, it’s still a good idea to keep the original ADSL modem in the cupboard. If you ever get a line fault on your ADSL, your ISP will insist you have the original box connected before they will look at the fault.

That doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of these all-in-one routers — they work just fine. It’s just that the support desk at your ISP can’t be expected to know how all these different boxes work, so they will expect you to reconnect the original when you call them for help. If you have an extreme dislike of plugging and unplugging boxes, the Linksys router will appeal, because it doesn’t include ADSL. It has WiFi and VoIP and some extra Ethernet ports but with the Linksys you keep using your ISP-supplied ADSL modem. Lock me in, Eddie. Because you need an account with a VoIP provider before you can make internet phone calls, it’s not surprising that several of these routers are supplied by the VoIP companies and are almost ready to go as soon as you apply power.

The routers which have ADSL included require you to enter the username and password your ISP gave you when you signed up for broadband. Hint: it’s usually, but not always, the same as the e-mail account you got at the same time. After you’ve plugged in the power and the cables, you enter the details by opening your Safari or Firefox or Opera browser and visiting the built-in web servers inside the routers.

The required address is on the supplied documentation. If your ISP is iiNet then you’ll be supplied with the Belkin router by them, and you’ll only have to enter the numbers on the first web page and hit the save button. Everything else is automated. The good news is that if you should later change your ISP, you can also change the VoIP details to those of your new provider. The Belkin router isn’t locked to iiNet but it does default to iiNet in the case of a total reset.

The Netgear DG834GV router can be acquired from either MyNetFone or engin, two of the most popular VoIP service providers. The price you pay varies based on the current specials on offer with each provider. At the time of writing MyNetFone was asking $299 outright while engin had a special price of $80 on a 12-month contract.

In use. The Netgear DG834GV, supplied by engin as the “Voice Box Series 3”, and the Belkin F1PI241EGau from iiNet, are attractive for anyone starting from scratch with broadband.

The boxes contains absolutely everything you need, including ADSL phone line filter-splitter, Ethernet cables, telephone patch cables and even an adaptor for old style phone wall sockets.

The Netcomm NB9W and D-Link DVA-G3340S routers don’t have an included ADSL filter-splitter, which won’t be a problem if you are upgrading from an existing ADSL setup. Of course the Linksys WRT54GP2 doesn’t have a direct ADSL port so it can’t be criticised for not providing you with a filter-splitter.

All these integrated routers take your VoIP experience to a new level with provision for Quality of Service (QoS) settings which can be tailored for the best voice quality. You will need to take the advice of your VoIP provider when changing the default settings unless you are an inveterate fiddler who enjoys this sort of challenge. The boxes supplied by engin and MyNetFone have already had the settings pre-configured for best quality. The other bonus with these routers is the provision of a second VoIP line. You just plug in a second telephone handset and you now have two phone lines, or three phone lines if you include your standard non-VoIP landline.

The Linksys provides only the two VoIP sockets but the Belkin, Netgear, Netcomm and D-Link routers also have a socket for you to connect your original landline. Using this facility means you don’t need two physical phones — one phone can now make and receive calls via VoIP or the standard telephone service. That is, unless you decide to use the second VoIP line. That this is becoming a popular option is evidenced by the emergence of phones that can accept two telephone line connections in the base station.

The Uniden DSS7960 is such a phone and AMW lab found the combination of this cordless phone (with two handsets) and any of the dual-VoIP plus landline routers made for a seamless telephone experience. If someone calls the landline, the phone rings and you pick it up. If you want to make a call, you just pick up the handset and dial, and it defaults to a low-cost VoIP call. If someone is already on the phone, you just press ‘line 2’ and make the call anyway.

This functionality is well-suited to the home office. You can designate one line for personal use and the other for business. You can set different ring tones for each line, so you’ll know if it’s a work call or one of your friends on the line. This setup would also be nice for any household plagued with teenagers. Make that essential. And you’ll probably need two of these routers and two ADSL connections if there’s more than one of the teenage variety lurking.

If you don’t want to be tied to iiNet for your ISP, and you don’t want to use engin or MyNetFone, then the D-Link offering is for you. This router does everything, just like the others, but isn’t locked to anybody or anything.

Of course this also requires you to be a bit more geeky and punch in the right numbers in each box before you can get going. However, there’s one more feature in the D-Link which will appeal to anyone without an Ethernet port on the back of their computer: the D-Link lets you connect to the internet via a USB-port. In some situations this could be a deal-maker.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. If you like iiNet, its supplied Belkin router has the lot, and if you change ISPs down the line, you can still use the box with a new provider. If you’re already happy with your ISP and just need some VoIP and want to reduce the box and cable clutter, then either offering from engin or MyNetFone will solve the problem and make setup easy. The Linksys would suit those who don’t want to fiddle with their ISP modem and landline phone, but want to add VoIP and WiFi features. And for those who are only satisfied by total control, D-Link is the obvious choice.

D-Link DVA-G3340S

SRP AUD$237
Ports VoIP x 2, Ethernet x4, WiFi, PSTN, USB, ADSL2+
Cons Setup a bit geeky
Pros Not locked to a provider, supports USB
Rating 4.5
Type All-in-one router
Distributor D-Link 02 8899 1861
Reviewer: Ian Yates

Linksys WRTP54G

SRP AYD$149
Ports VoiP x 2, Ethernet x 3, WiFi, Internet x 1
Cons Locked to engin
Pros Add-on to existing ADSL and phone setup
Rating 4
Type All-in-one router
Distributor Linksys 02 9963 4444
Reviewer: Ian Yates

Netcomm NB9W

SRP AUD$180
Ports VoIP x 2, Ethernet x 4, WiFi, ADSL2+, PSTN
Cons Locked to a VoIP provider
Pros Avaiable from engin or MyNetFone
Rating 4
Type All-in-one router
Distributor NetComm 02 9424 2000
Reviewer: Ian Yates

Belkin F1PI241EGau - iiNet

Ports VoIP x 2, Ethernet x 4, WiFi, ADSL2+, PSTN
Cons Defaults to iiNet
Pros Can be used with another ISP
Rating 4
Type All-in-one router
SRP AUD$199
Distributor Belkin 1800 235 546
Reviewer: Ian Yates

Netgear DG834GV

SRP AUD$219
Ports VoIP x 2, Ethernet x 4, WiFi, ADSL2+, PSTN
Cons locked to engin
Pros Everything you need is in the box
Rating 4
Type All-in-one router
Distributor engin 02 9004 4533
Reviewer: Ian Yates

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